Almost every shift a patient asks me if they can use the phone. It’s always incredible to me that there are people in this world that don’t even have money to use a pay phone let alone own a cell phone. The inability of the poor and the penniless to do something as simple as make and receive phone calls becomes one more barrier to getting housing, social services, and medical care. Sometimes I let the person use the phone in the social work office and sometimes I call for them using the ER cell phone. I learn a lot about my patients by calling  family members. Often a dark side they don’t share with me.

Many of my homeless patients ask me to call family to see if they can stay with them. Home and family is everything, no matter how dysfunctional it is. The family: the heart of a heartless world but for my patients the heart has been ripped out. There’s no home, only homelessness.

One young man seriously, dangerously mentally ill and homeless asked me to call his mother and ask  if he could come back home.  He was a scrawny, white man. Early twenties. He was malnourished, dirty clothes, hair greasy and matted. Front teeth were missing. I got his mother on the phone and she said no way, he couldn’t live there anymore. She was recovering from heart surgery, had a ton of other health problems and he was stressing her out too much. He was unplugging phones, climbing out windows, threatening her and generally acting bizarre. She also shared with me that she thought her son was gay. Mom said the medication he took wasn’t working and he shouldn’t be on any at all. She called psychiatrists a bunch of horses asses. She said she loved her son very much but just couldn’t handle having him in her home. Then she started to cry and sobbed, “I’m not a bad mother.”  The patient asked if he could talk to her – he was crestfallen when he heard he couldn’t go home.  Normally I would say no, it’s that thing about the germs and I was afraid he might run off with the phone. It costs $700. But I said yes this time. He got on the phone and launched into an ugly, loud argument. After about two minutes I said conversations over and took the phone from him.  I could see why she couldn’t have him at home.

Another patient, a young, black, woman with bi-polar disorder,  asked me to call her family to see if they would let her come home.  She was unusual in that she was wearing stylish, clean, designer clothes, had flashy jewelry and was carrying two huge, heavy duffel bags. She had a maniacal laugh that punctuated most thoughts and wouldn’t stop talking unless interrupted.  Definitely in the manic phase. I don’t think anything I said sunk in. I called her mother who flat out refused to let her come home and hung up on me. Then I called an aunt and she agreed to let her stay for one night  but she couldn’t be drunk. I assured her that the patient was not drunk and had been in the ER for almost 24 hours. I called for a medicar to take her to the aunts house.

I called a patient’s ex-girlfriend to see if he could stay with her instead of going to a shelter. She started throwing down on me: “I’m so sick of that man, I want him outta my life, why he callin’ me, he ain’t caused me nothing but misery and he ain’t staying here.” Then I asked if she had the number for his parole officer, she yelled, “He don’t know the number to his parole officer, he a grown man?!”  She said hold on, slammed the phone down and went to look for the number. The ex gave it to me and said, “Tell that fool don’t  never to call me again.” I relayed that message to the patient.